Different young people play sports for different reasons.  For some it’s the social interaction of playing alongside their mates.  For others, it’s love of the sport and how it makes them feel, being able to have a competitive physical outlet.  For some it might just be that they happen to be very good at it.  For most, it’s likely to be a combination of all of the above and more.  Therefore, it’s really important to have an awareness of this when working with youth rugby players, and also recognising that reasons for playing rugby can evolve as players devleop and mature.

Every youth rugby player can benefit from strength and conditioning

One of the reasons that strength and conditioning is so popular in rugby is because of the physical demands of the sport.  Firstly, look at the elite level of the game.  Professional rugby players are massive and well built, compared to many other team sports.  They possess a high level of muscularity.  This immediately highlights the importance of muscular size, strength and power to the sport.  Why is this?

The specific demands of the game mean that players are going to experience a lot of physical collisions.  Therefore players must be able to withstand repeated impacts throughout the training and matches.  A youth rugby player must be able to execute specific skills such as tackling, evading opponents, rucking, mauling, scrummaging and many more.  Each requires joints, muscle and bones to be strong and stable.  Therefore, the very nature of rugby means that all players, regardless of their playing level, would benefit from some form of strength and conditioning.

Challenges in conditioning the youth rugby player

The youth rugby player, like many talented young athletes, will experience a lot of demands on their time.  Academic work, school sports, family and social commitments will take up a young players times and energy.  The strength and conditioning coach must consider these when programming the player.  The key is to keep input minimal in volume, and sticking to the ‘must do’ basics.  For me, this means having a blend:

  • Functional movements
  • Olympic lifting and derivatives
  • Compound movements
  • Accessory movements

Different players will also have vary levels of access to facilities.  Some will have no gym available whereas others may be members of very well equipped gyms and health clubs.  Players benefit from being able to perform gymnastic and bodyweight movements well.  Used correctly, bodyweight can provide a very effective stimulus to develop maximum strength as well as muscular endurance.  Being creative with carries and lifting of odd objects and teammates can also ensure that functional movements are available to all.

With an emphasis upon physical size it can be easy to select movements that build mass but they do not relate to movements and the application of forces when playing the game.  Ensuring that all strength and conditioning movements practiced transfer to an increase in performance is vital to the success of a youth rugby strength and conditioning programme.

Overcoming and bridging the gap between the gym and the field

Youth rugby players will have their own specific reasons for playing.  In turn, this will influence their openness to strength and conditioning.  They will also have different circumstances when it comes to demands on their time and their access to facilities.  With these factors in mind it is important to make a strength and conditioning programme blended.  Time and energy are limited, and therefore mixing explosive movements, carries, holds, compound lifts and injury prevention could be a wise move.  Ensuring maximum transfer of training to the field has to be the goal.